Spotify Is Everything That iTunes In The Cloud Should Be [Review]

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On Spotify’s homepage, one of the quotes they prominently use as an advertising blurb was written by my friend and old-Wired colleague, Eliot Van Buskirk, who once famously wrote that Spotify is “like a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world.”

They’re right to use it. It’s a great description. Spotify doesn’t have every song in the world — just 15 million, in fact — but boy does it feel like it. That’s not just because of Spotify’s huge library of licensed songs, though. It’s because Spotify seamlessly integrates into iTunes to supplement itself. It’s a true iTunes in the Cloud.

Why iTunes in the Cloud? Well, first of all, it looks a lot like iTunes, except in black instead of aluminum. It works like iTunes too. When you load up the Spotify and do a search for music, not only does it search through its own databases for songs available for streaming, it also does a local search on your machine in your iTunes library, as well as your Music and Downloads folder. That means that once Spotify is installed, iTunes becomes largely superfluous for music listening: Spotify does all of the heavy lifting, and can easily function as your default music player.

But what if you want to have some of your favorite songs in Spotify available locally for when you don’t have WiFi? No problem: Spotify allows you to keep any albums or tracks that you star available in local storage. You can specify in preferences how much storage you want to allow Spotify to have, but it defaults to 10% of available free space.

Once you’ve got a library of songs that have been starred, here comes another Spotify killer feature: you can sync them to your iOS device. All you need to do is open up the Spotify iOS app on your iPhone or iPad when it’s connected to the same WiFi network as the Spotify software on your Mac. You can select to sync some or all of your Spotify tracks, including individually by playlist.

Spotify’s music library is impressive. They’re launching in the United States with seemingly all the same deals in place as they have in Europe, meaning Spotify subscribers can choose to stream fifteen million tracks. That’s about six million tracks than Rdio, the streaming music subscription service I’ve been using up until now.

Even though Spotify has more tracks than Rdio, though, it seems like Rdio might have better deals with indie labels in place, with several recent indie albums not available on Spotify even as they are present on Rdio. For example, Seattle’s Subpop Records doesn’t seem to have a deal inked with Spotify, leaving several recent albums by Washed Out, The Handsome Furs and The Dum Dum Girls unavailable. For most people’s tastes, this probably isn’t a big deal, but it is disappointing: if you love indie music, you may actually want to wait on Spotify for now. Hopefully Spotify’s arrangement with indie labels will mature over time.

Ultimately, Spotify has three huge advantages over competing services like Rdio.

For one thing, Spotify is available for free, as long as you’re willing to listen to ads and max out your streaming to 10 hours per month. No other streaming music subscription service offers a free plan: it’s a huge win.

Second, Spotify’s audio quality just beats the pants off of the likes of Rdio. Rdio’s always been cagy about what bitrate they stream tracks in, only going on record as far to say that they stream at “CD Quality,” implying 192-256kbps. Spotify — especially with the “high quality streaming” option ticked — just sounds so much better and richer at 320kbps Ogg Vorbis.

Finally, there’s the apps. Although some might complain that Spotify is only available as a fat, downloadable client, with no web interface available, this is actually just a huge advantage over the competition. Spotify’s software is just excellent after having been polished over the years for the European market. Comparatively, the competition has just nothing that even comes close to the excellent of Spotify’s desktop software. Rdio’s Mac app, for example, runs in Flash. Puke.

The sore spot on the app front is there’s no native iPad app, which seems like a strange omission on Spotify’s part. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this gets remedied sooner rather than later.

One final thing to mention is that Spotify, unlike Ping, has some truly excellent social networking integration. It plugs into Facebook, meaning you can not only share music you like on your wall, but you are linked up automatically with other Facebook friends with Spotify accounts. You can see what albums and artists your buddies are listening to, share playlists with them, even send them songs to be downloaded automatically to their iOS devices.

What’s the verdict? Spotify is everything Europeans have been saying it is for years. There’s no reason even light music listeners shouldn’t sign up for at least a free account, and if you listen to enough music to want to take your Spotify library on the road, for the price of an album purchased off of iTunes every month, you can fill your iPhone or iPad with as many of Spotify’s fifteen million tracks as it can hold. If you listen to a lot of indie music, you’ll want to take Spotify for a free spin before you commit, but otherwise, Spotify is everything iTunes in the Cloud should be… and everything iTunes Match is not.

  • bplano

    Too bad iTunes is a big, beefy program that runs relatively slow with enormous music collections :\

    On both PC and Mac. When Apple can cut down iTunes a bit, then I’ll be happy :D

  • Jazam2010

    :O they don’t have Adele!!!!!!!!! Atleast in the U.S.

  • Benji Gershon

    I’ve been using Spotify Premium for a good year now. Ever since, I am dumfounded why I ever bothered downloading music illegally. Files that take up way too much space and are probably way too poor quality to even bother with, who needs it! With Spotify there’s no waiting, I have access to some great albums within seconds. 

    I feel like when you download music, you put a cap on only the must have albums to save space/money/time. But Spotify allows you to listen to everything you pretty much want to.

    Truly recommend this. 

  • Simon Wesslan Westerlund

    there are several albums here in sweden, maybe it’ll come later!

  • B066Y

    I’m going to give the free version a try but in my opinion if they are going to make you listen to ads then they shouldn’t limit your time per month. I know I could pay for an account but I listen to music all the time (free radio and purchased music) but I only buy a couple albums worth of music a year so paying for it doesn’t seem worth it.

  • Sambo

    Typical John Brownlee crap: “written by my friend and old-Wired colleague, Elliot Van Buskirk,”

    Way to attempt a name drop, JB. You’re old pal at Wired, Eliot, must like the fact that y’all have known each other so long yet you can’t seem to spell his name correctly.

  • prof_peabody

    What all the Spotify lovers fail to realise is that not everyone wants to pay a monthly fee for streaming.  It can never replace iTunes because only a small percentage of folks actually want their music that way.  

    This percentage may change of course, but I am a big consumer of music and video online and I have no interest at all in paying for a streaming service.  I would argue that anyone who really appreciates their music want’s to own it, not rent it.

  • Sambo

    Good to know that the readers are doing your editing for you, John. Thanks for fixing it! (And removing my comment in a timely fashion!)  :-)

  • huyett

    Remember when brownlee wrote an article called “Why iCloud doesn’t stream music, and why it doesn’t have to.”

    Flip FLOP Flip FLOP

  • Sambo

    I’m glad that I’m not the only one out there noticing this drivel.

  • dagamer34

    What does Spotify do that Rdio doesn’t already?

  • Johan Peguero Bruno

    SPOTIFY SOUNDS GOOD BUT I PREFER PANDORA A THOUSAND TIMES OVER..

  • brownlee

    You were moderated for being abusive, not for pointing out a typo. I’d do the same if you were being abusive to any other commenter. Thanks for the typo spot, though… I would have owed Eliot a beer.

  • brownlee

    That’s why Spotify is so good: it has a free service.

  • brownlee

    That’s why Spotify is so good: it has a free service.

  • brownlee

    Remember when you didn’t bother to read that article, and then thought this one contradicted it? Because it doesn’t. Heck, you didn’t even get the HEADLINE right.

    http://www.cultofmac.com/why-i

    Here’s the concluding paragraphs of that piece: “With iCloud, Apple was thinking bigger than just streaming. They wanted to fulfill Steve Jobs promise of a post PC age, and that meant finally killing off the one product that more than any other built Apple’s modern day empire: iTunes.

    That’s not to say that streaming can’t come to iCloud and iTunes Match. In fact, it would be a fairly trivial thing for Apple to add in down the line.So why didn’t iCloud launch with music streaming? Simple. As we highlighted before, while the technology is there to stream all of your music from the cloud to your device, the carriers’ prohibitive capped mobile data plans simply aren’t made for demoting local storage in favor of cloud streaming. An American’s 2GB iPhone or iPad data plan will net him a little over an hour each day of medium-quality streaming music… and that’s not taking into account any other use for your mobile data per month. And with video, it’s even worse.

    Streaming will come to iCloud some day, I have no doubt, but hindsight being 20/20, it’s clear that iCloud was never really about streaming. It wasn’t about killing downloads at all. It was about killing iTunes.”

  • huyett

    1) Many users still have unlimited data plans.
    2) Why should apple decide what people should do with their data plans.
    3) Why would apple want to keep people from using iTunes everyday.

    Apple makes billions of dollars selling music, not to mention how much money they’ve sunk into development and maintenance.

    Apple will never kill iTunes, it’s the center of all of their mobile hardware.  Where would the iPod touch be without iTunes and it’s collection of music and apps?

    What good is iTunes in the cloud without streaming.  Anyone with a serious music collection has a backup (preferably on network attached storage like time capsule). 

    Why should I care if my music is in the cloud if I have to physically download it anyways?

  • Alfiejr

    but it’s great for checking out music before buying it. even 90 second song samples are not nearly as good as just playing the whole album once or twice. you might decide you only want some of the tracks and buy them individually instead. or not at all. this will save me money.

    yeah, Pandora is still the best way to get started and find out about artists you never heard of. then do the Spotify check. then buy the really good stuff.

  • Thomas

    Not much really. Except for the higher bitrate (Rdio is really baaaaaad). Which is why I use MOG and its much better sound quality.

  • Richard Hart

    They do have Adele. They do not have Hometown Glory album

  • Karl

    Agreed… I won’t ever pay to stream music. I have a ton of music and would love to stream it to my work computer. But I won’t pay a monthly fee to do so. 

    For now, I keep my iTunes Library on a 1TB external drive and back that up to another portable external drive that I plug in to work and listen too. Once a month or so I bring it home and run the back up. The advantage to this solution is I now have an off site back up of all my iTunes content.

  • Rxcketeer

    So what happens when you stop paying for a month or two? 

  • NeilN

    Note the majority of tracks are NOT streamed at 320kbps. See http://getsatisfaction.com/spo

  • brownlee

    Well, that’s certainly a valid perspective, but who’s flip flopping now? Your original point was I’d changed my tune, and you accused me of being a hypocrite, now you’re just arguing my last article’s premise.

  • appledrunk

    Wow, I am quite impressed with Spotify. If anyone wants to use it without an invite and/or outside the US or the designated European countries, check this out:

    http://appledrunk.com/how-to-u

    I am currently streaming from Canada without any issues whatsoever, and am not using a VPN.

  • assb10yr5

    Why should I pay with my data every time I want to listen to a song. Sounds expensive to me.

  • huyett

    Maybe the language is lost in translation.

    You said iCloud doesn’t have to stream, now you’re writing about your excitement over Spotify (a music streaming application) saying that it is “everything that iTunes in the cloud should be.”

  • Conor McAfee

    although, with Spotify I dont need to back up, just turn my computer or iPhone on and there is all my music and more

  • Jamal22

    Agreed, assb10yr5. The 4.99 price wouldn’t be too bad if that was all inclusive, but the pricing is too expensive for me.

    I’ll pass.

  • Toby Luna

    has everyone forgotten about Grooveshark?

  • Hampus

    with horrible limitations.

  • Hampus

    You… Can’t listen for those one or two months? :p

  • Mikael Hansson

    You have a very valid point, but you can still use spotify exactly as you would use itunes. With the free version you can still buy the tracks that you want and have unlimited listeningtime for those tracks while using the streaming to discover new music.

  • lrd

    Ok. Here’s my question to the world: Google just announce their earnings: How much did they make from Android? Admob? Chrome Net Books? YouTube?Can anybody tell me?

  • Henning Larsen

    This is what I used to think – before Spotify came along. I’ve used it for several years now, and it is absolutely worth the modest monthly fee. I still buy music, the music I really want to own, and through Spotify I’ve discovered new music and broadened my interest in and knowledge of music. And you can easily buy it directly from inside the application.
    Buying music – I am considering LPs again, they have an interesting comeback around here, at least! Vinyl is amazing. 

  • Henning Larsen

    This is what I used to think – before Spotify came along. I’ve used it for several years now, and it is absolutely worth the modest monthly fee. I still buy music, the music I really want to own, and through Spotify I’ve discovered new music and broadened my interest in and knowledge of music. And you can easily buy it directly from inside the application.
    Buying music – I am considering LPs again, they have an interesting comeback around here, at least! Vinyl is amazing. 

  • Naomi Leonard

    I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, LiveCent.com

  • Matt Baker

    Other than the fact that it’s free, I don’t see the big deal.  Why don’t people compare it to rhapsody, it has all the same features and has been around for years.  It has a great mobile app. No advertising, works great.

  • Steven Jev

    Yeah honestly I was thinking exactly this while reading. I use Grooveshark all the time, especially since living in Canada makes my options all that more limited. 

  • treasy22

    If you want to stream to a PC you do not need to pay anything, it’s free.

  • bgraphic

    Spotify has artist radio, it’s similar to Pandora. After selecting an arist chose artist radio from the tabs at the top.

  • bgraphic

    If you need a remote control we’ve made the app Remoteless that turns your iPhone into a Spotify remote: http://bit.ly/mX60aK

  • B066Y

    His original article stated that iCloud doesn’t have to stream to be successful, and I agree with him on that point. However, that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t be excited or like to see iCloud stream one day or be excited about Spotify and wish that iCloud had that feature.

  • Dilbert A

    “Rdio’s Mac app, for example, runs in Flash. Puke.”

  • Dilbert A

    $5 dollars is to expensive for you. Wow.

  • Dilbert A

    true this is.

  • Dilbert A

    Exactly what I was going to say.

    Back PEDAL

  • Dilbert A

    I guess the article should’ve addressed you by name.

  • Dilbert A

    I “really appreciate” music and films, but I have no interest in owning either.

    Seems kind of pointless to me.

    I just wish that I could stream my games in the same way.

  • Dilbert A

    But … it’s free.

  • Dilbert A

    I think apple has Microsoft Office Syndrome (TM) when it comes to iTunes, unfortunately.

  • Bob Weave

    it would be awesome, if you didnt have to pay to stream your own music, thats weak. Dropbox offers your music streamed up to 2 gb for free, and pandora streams random music for free. This app is just a combo of the 2, why would i pay for that

  • Dave Berry

    The thing I don’t like about Spotify is it is harder to find stuff than in Rhapsody. As an example. the UI doesn’t give you the Similar Artists feature which really enables users to find new things easily. It may sounds like a nit pick but for me things like the catalog size and speed are not major differentiators. In the end, the one with the best UI to engage users (or deepest pockets) wins.

  • mai duc chung

    The usual idea is that you would use NFC to set up the link between the two devices and then do an automatic hand over to a different protocol for doing the actual transfer of data – eg Bluetooth,iphone 5